ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes




1975 — Returned to U.S. and began a remarkable political transformation. Renounced the Black Panthers and

stated he believed he would be treated fairly by the American judicial system. Murder charges were dropped.

Placed on probation for assault. Sentenced to twelve-hundred hours of community service.  



Books by Eldridge Cleaver


Soul on Ice Post-Prison Writings and Speeches  / Target Zero; A Life in Writing  / Conversation with Eldridge Cleaver

Being Black / Education and Revolution / Eldridge Cleaver  / Eldridge Cleaver Is Free


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An Eldridge Cleaver Bio-Chronology


[In] the 60s, for a time, everything was possible; that this period, in other words, was a moment of universal liberation, a global unbinding of energies. –Fredric Jameson, 1984  

1935 (August 31) — Born in Wabbaseka, Arkansas. His family moved first to Phoenix and then to Los Angeles. Grew up in Watts section. His father was a dining car waiter; his mother a maid. Ran into trouble with the law and finally arrested for theft and selling marijuana.

1954 to 1957 — Imprisoned at eighteen for possession of  a bag of marijuana

1957 — Arrested for rape and attempted murder. Convicted of assault with intent to murder and sent to California’s tough San Quentin and Folsom prisons. Received two to fourteen year sentence.  

Immersed himself in the writings of various revolutionary authors (Marx, Tom Paine, Lenin, Bakunin, et al.), black American writers (Richard Wright, James Baldwin, W. E. B. Du Bois), and counter-cultural writers  (Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs). 

Began to write and through his lawyer, Beverly Axlerod, came to the notice of various literary figures, including Norman Mailer, who petitioned the authorities  for his parole.

1966 — Released from prison. Helped found the Black Panthers, a militant, leftist, anti-establishment black nationalist group based in Oakland, California. Became its information minister, or spokesman.

1967 to1971 — Minister of Information for the Black Panther Party

1968 —  Initially published in Ramparts magazine,  his writings were published as the book Soul on Ice. Written almost entirely while he was in Folsom Prison, the book is a loosely knit series of letters and essays about race issues in America, prison life, Baldwin, and other black literary figures, revolutionary violence and his sexual obsessions, especially his obsession with white women.

1968 (April)–  Wounded after a shootout between Black Panthers and police in Oakland. Arrested. Many New York radicals demonstrated for his release. Two months later, released when a judge ruled that he was held as a political prisoner. 

Fall 1968, taught an experimental course at the University of California Berkeley. Then Governor Ronald Reagan was outraged: “If Eldridge Cleaver is allowed to teach our children, they may come home one night and slit our throats?”

1968 —  Ran for U.S. president on the ticket of the Peace and Freedom Party, Cleaver. A higher court overturned  the June 1968 ruling that released Cleaver. Faced a long prison term on charges of assault and attempted murder. Jumped bail, and fled the United States for a life of exile. Stopped first in Cuba, then in Algeria.

Traveled widely. Given a warm welcome in the Soviet Union, Vietnam, and Kim II Sung’s Korea.


1971 — Broke with Panthers and moved to Paris, France. While in France, had a mystical vision in which the faces of Marx, Engels, Mao, Castro, and others appeared in the moon, followed by the face of Christ. This tale created the foundation for his Christian conversion. 

1975 — Returned to U.S. and began a remarkable political transformation. Renounced the Black Panthers and stated he believed he would be treated fairly by the American judicial system. Murder charges were dropped. Placed on probation for assault. Sentenced to twelve-hundred hours of community service.  

Became a born-again Christian, a follower of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a Mormon. Embraced anti-communism. Made an unsuccessful run for the GOP nomination for a Senate seat in California. 

1982 — Booed by Yale’s Afro-American student society for supporting Reagan

1980s (mid) — Became addicted to crack cocaine, which led to new brushes with the law. 

1986 — Explained in interview his many life transformations. “Everybody changes, not just me,” he said. “I was pulled over in my car with my secretary for a traffic thing, and one of the officers walked up to the car and saw me sitting inside. He took off his hat and said, ‘Hey, Eldridge, remember me?'” “He used to be a Panther,” Cleaver said. “It was hard to believe.”

1988 — Placed on  probation after convictions for burglary and cocaine possession

1992 —  Arrested again for cocaine possession, but a judge threw out the charges after determining Cleaver was improperly arrested.

1994 —  Berkeley police found him staggering about with a severe head wound and crack in his pocket. Almost died from the blow to the head administered by a fellow addict. With the help of his family, he got off drugs and again immersed himself in evangelical Christianity.

1997 — Interviewed by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Cleaver Speaks to Skip Gates 

1997 (April) — Appeared at an Earth Day conference in Portland, Oregon. He was reported to have said that he’d  ” gone beyond civil rights and human rights to creation rights.”

1998 (May l) — Died in hospital, sixty-two years old.  Family refused to disclose the cause of death. At time of his death, worked as a diversity consultant for the University of La Verne, near Los Angeles.

Source: New Criterion, Jun 98, Vol. 16 Issue 10,  p.5,  9p  

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Cleaver as born again Christian said his “red fighting” was born from his experiences in communist countries during his years on the run. “I have taken an oath in my heart to oppose communism until the day I die,” Cleaver told interviewers during his congressional campaign.

“Everybody changes, not just me,” Cleaver explained.

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Ralph Ellison on the Redeemed Criminal

Sure, they’re treated as though serving time has endowed them with a mysterious, god-granted knowledge. And, especially if they say that they’ve been to the depths of hell and have been reborn into a new vision. Well, I’ve known a few guys who spent time in prison and none of them underwent any such mystical transformation. Nevertheless, for Americans—and especially Christians—the confession of sin and the assertion of rebirth and redemption has tremendous appeal. This is especially true of our own people, who understandably are hungry for heroes and redeemers.

I used to collect the handbills distributed by fly-by-night faith-healers in Harlem, and most of them stated that after being up to their eyeballs in crime, they’d had the scales struck from their eyes while in prison, and this had prepared them to lead their people. During the Sixties, this myth of the redeemed criminal had a tremendous influence on our young people, when criminals guilty of every crime from con games, to rape, to murder exploited it by declaring themselves political activists and Black leaders. As a result, many sincere, dedicated leaders of an older generation were swept aside. I’m speaking now of courageous individuals who made sacrifices in order to master the disciplines of leadership and who created a continuity between themselves and earlier leaders of our struggle. The kids treated such people as if they were Uncle Toms, and I found it outrageous. Because not only did it distort the concrete historical differences between one period of struggle and another, it made heroes out of thugs and self-servers out of dedicated leaders.

Worse, it gave many kids the notion that here was no point in developing their minds; that all they had to do was to strike a militant stance, assert their unity with the group and stress their “Blackness.” If you didn’t accept their slogans, you were dismissed as a “Neegro” Uncle Tom. Years ago, DuBois stressed a leadership based upon an elite of the intellect. During the Sixties, it appeared that for many Afro-Americans all that was required for such a role was a history of criminality (the sleazier the better), a capacity for irresponsible rhetoric, and the passionate assertion of the mystique of “Blackness.” At least, that’s how it appeared to me.

Source: The Essential Ellison (Interview)—Ishmael Reed, Quincy Troupe, Steve Cannon. Ishmael Reed’s and Al Young’s Y’Bird • Copyright © 1977, 1978 Y’Bird Magazine

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



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#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

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#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

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#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


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#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

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#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890-2000

By Adam Fairclough

Better Day Coming is intended, in author Adam Fairclough’s words, as “neither a textbook nor a survey, but an interpretation” (p. xiv) of the circuitous struggle for racial equality pursued by African Americans and their occasional allies between 1890 and 2000. Chronologically organized, the narrative moves from an evaluation of the hard-pressed, contending forces vying for ascendancy in the black South at the nadir to the interwar period and well beyond, into the urban cauldron of the northern ghettoes at the high point of the Black Power movement. Fairclough brings to his project a fluent understanding of the shifting institutional configurations of opposition to Jim Crow and a keen sensitivity to the ways in which the efforts of those who fought it were hampered, circumscribed, and occasionally crushed by the pressures of operating in a society formally committed—for most of the period under discussion—to aggressive defense of the racial status quo.

Fairclough’s “basic argument” seems at first glance uncontroversial: that “although blacks differed . . . about the most appropriate tactics in the struggle for equality, they were united in rejecting allegations of racial inferiority and in aspiring to a society where men and women would be judged on merit rather than by race or color” (p. xii).

But his ultimate aim is more ambitious: he sets out to rehabilitate the accommodationist tradition represented by Booker T. Washington which, though “apparently unheroic,” in the author’s view “laid the groundwork for the militant confrontation of the Civil Rights Movement” (p. xiii).—h-net

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Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas —The Black Panther Party for Self Defense, formed in the aftermath of the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, remains one of the most controversial movements of the 20th-century. Founded by the charismatic Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, the party sounded a defiant cry for an end to the institutionalized subjugation of African Americans. The Black Panther newspaper was founded to articulate the party’s message and artist Emory Douglas became the paper’s art director and later the party’s Minister of Culture. Douglas’s artistic talents and experience proved a powerful combination: his striking collages of photographs and his own drawings combined to create some of the era’s most iconic images, like that of Newton with his signature beret and large gun set against a background of a blood-red star, which could be found blanketing neighborhoods during the 12 years the paper existed. This landmark book brings together a remarkable lineup of party insiders who detail the crafting of the party’s visual identity. —Publisher Rizzoli

Douglas was the Norman Rockwell of the ghetto, concentrating on the poor and oppressed. Departing from the WPA/social realist style of portraying poor people, which can be perceived as voyeuristic and patronizing, Douglas’s energetic drawings showed respect and action. He maintained poor people’s dignity while graphically illustrating harsh situations.—Wikipedia

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.”

We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

By Pauline Maier

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly).

Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state convention’s verdict affected another’s. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.—Booklist

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 25 February 2008 




Home    Eldridge Cleaver Table   Conversations Table  Amiri Baraka Table   Fifty Influential Figures  The Du Bois-Malcolm-King

Related files: Revolutionary Suicide